A rare ‘parliamentary train’ carried members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail along the Kent & East Sussex Railway on Friday, 15 September.
The cross-party group meets regularly at Westminster to improve understanding by Parliamentarians of Britain’s unique railway heritage and how best to maintain and enhance it.
The Group was led by Lord Faulkner of Worcester who is also president of the Heritage Railway Association.
Lord Faulkner said: “We wanted to visit this popular line to see at first hand the role it plays in supporting tourism, in outreach to the community it serves and its innovative approach to environmental stewardship, as well as its exciting plans for future extensions. Heritage railways are important in supporting skills training and employment and support well-being for both volunteers and visitors so it has been good to see this in action on this historic and pioneering light railway.”
Travelling with the group was Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill & Battle, an enthusiastic supporter of the line and its volunteers, who is also the Rail Minister and in whose constituency the western end of the line lies, along with the planned link to the national network at Robertsbridge in East Sussex.
Huw Merriman said: “I was delighted to join members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail to travel on the Kent & East Sussex Railway. This railway, and the fantastic volunteers who operate it, plays a crucial role in preserving our rich rail history.
“Heritage railways such as Kent & East Sussex also bring about significant economic benefits for the local area, attracting tourists with the promise of a wonderful day out. This visit was also a good opportunity to hear from the Rother Valley Railway Heritage Trust on their plans to complete the link from the heritage railway to the national network.”
Dr Robin Coombes General Manager of the Kent & East Sussex Railway, remarked: “We are honoured to have hosted the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail and to have showcased the vital role heritage railways play in our communities. Their visit aligns perfectly with our mission to preserve, celebrate, and share our rich railway history as we approach our 50th anniversary in 2024. We look forward to contributing our experiences to their study on the wider social and economic benefits of heritage railways, reaffirming our commitment to the past and the future of this historic and pioneering light railway.”
Steve Oates, CEO of the Heritage Railway Association was also with the group, which was also able to meet local authority representatives from Kent County Council and Rother District Council as well as railway volunteers whose dedication and enthusiasm have driven the success of the railway as a major tourist attraction. They heard plans from Mike Hart of the Rother Valley Railway Heritage Trust to complete the missing link to the national network. The Group is currently working on a study to identify the wider social and economic benefits of heritage railways, and the knowledge gained on this visit will feed into that study.